I’m not a professional handicapper, but I play one on the Internet.
I’ve never been a scientific sort: things like speed figures don’t make sense to me. And past performances, I defenestrate them, too, because–as y’all must know about me, by now–I realize that horses are sentient beings. Champions have bad days, and ne’er-do-wells wake up some mornings and think, “Today I kick butt.”
If we were racing, say, bowling balls or rocks, then past performances would make perfect sense: it’s much easier to conduct scientific experiments and predict outcomes when the subjects of said experiment don’t have brains, hearts and soul.
But if there’s one thing horses possess, it’s heart. A ton of heart. And that untouchable, un-transplantable heart–the spirit of the being–is that which separates Seabiscuit from a pet rock. So the next moves, or potential for winning, of a sentient being absolutely cannot be predicted with any measure of reliability, at all. Past performances are nice to read and maybe even interesting, but they don’t tell the whole story.
So I’m not really a handicapper–or at least, I’ll never be accepted by the handicapping community as being legit. That’s fine, I’ve long been a rhombus in a world defined by round holes. I do think that pedigree is important–but not necessarily because of genetics, but because I believe that a horse can inherit her/his guts, heart and soul from a legendary or at least successful ancestor. I know that I inherited my Grandmother’s outrageous personality and the determination of my Great-Grandma Hannah–so why can’t a horse inherit her Grandsire’s ability to stare down the barrel of the home stretch and win the day?
My handicapping theories include pedigree. I also consider the trainer and jockey–both accepted handicapping tools. But one of the things I consider about trainers is this: who is a great trainer, who just hasn’t happened to win lately? A man or woman who’s got the Right Stuff hasn’t lost it, they may be waiting to score when the time is right.
And jockeys. Well. It’s Saratoga 2012, and even on Day Three, it looks like the meet may be a match race between Rosie Napravnik and Ramon Dominguez. At least, I hope so: this would be a great boost in the arm for racing, especially here in the beleaguered New York racing community. A good, old-fashioned season of two jockeys, both determined to take the Saratoga title and throwing every ounce of intestinal fortitude into beating the bejeebers out of the other one–would be a dream come true. I hope that Rosie looks at Ramon, and Ramon sizes up Rosie, and they decide, GLOVES OFF. No holds barred. One-on-one, BRING IT.
Both are great jockeys, both have the ability to grind the other into the ground. Based on what I’ve seen just in the first three days–these two have the ability to be #1. I’m never one to encourage a fight, but in this case, I’ll make an exception.
(And please, if it shapes up that way–please, I beseech Thee, do not make it a He Said/She Said. And quit calling her a “female jockey.” She’s a jockey who happens to be a female person. If you wouldn’t call Ramon a “male jockey”–then you see how ridiculous and 19th Century it is to continue to call Rosie–or Maylan, Julie, Chantal–a “female jockey.” )
So you’re very likely to see that many of my picks involve Rosie and Ramon, because I really do believe that it’s going to come down to the two of them for the Saratoga title.
(You should know that if I don’t name one of them in a pick, it’s because s/he is riding a horse trained by R. Dutrow. I have problems with him, for his actual, 19th Century opinions of women in racing, and his alleged treatment of horses.)
Also: In the You Should Know category:
When I list my 1,2 and 3 for a race, I am not telling anyone to bet that as a trifecta. I wouldn’t do that, because I don’t bet straight tris, myself. I don’t have the guts, or the cash to blow. I think, actually, that you stand a much better chance of taking home some cash at the end of the day if you bet any horse across-the-board, and put three horses in an exacta box.
Now we get to the other stuff, the place at which poetry and horse racing intersect. That which cannot touched, but which can be known: the domain of rationalism vs. empiricism.
Yes, we’re going to discuss…feelings. Vibes. Dreams. Synchronicities. Let me tell you a tale, and I dare you–I double-dog-dare anyone, including the world’s greatest handicapper–to tell me that this did not play out as it did.
Do you remember the TV show, Taxi? The show featured a character whose last name was, Nardo. Danny DeVito, playing the dispatcher, used to call to her with his Brooklyn accent, “NARDO!”
For almost a week, I would wake up at odd hours, hearing “Nardo!” in DeVito’s voice.
Then, on Thursday, the 19th, as I looked over the entries for Satuday, the 21st, I saw that a horse named, Adios Nardo, was entered in the eighth race.
This was the Nardo to whom DeVito in my dreamlife referred. I knew the horse would win, as surely as I knew that the sun would rise in the East, and not take a detour, rising instead from the North for a change.
I even put it on the line: on Friday, Opening Day, I told friends to bet on Adios Nardo, because he would win. And I told them why.
I bet him across-the-board (more on ATB, later)–and of course, Adios Nardo won.
Absolutely no logic, reasoning or actual thought there. I’d gotten a sign, and the sign was dead-on. I can’t explain it, I just know that it’s true–and so do the friends to whom I gave that advice on Friday morning.
And of course never once did I refer to his past performances. For all I know, he’d been foaled that morning.
I’m still convinced that the best handicappers are you folks. The people who stand around the paddock and observe the horses’ behaviours and physicalizations just before a race. Now, pro handicappers don’t have the luxury of doing that: they have to have their selections in at least the night before.
But I’ve seen it a thousand a ten times, that the people who notice a horse’s particular large, muscular butt–for the butt is the engine of the horse–know what they’re talking about. And if a horse in the paddock raises his head and lets out a loud whinny before the race–he is expressing his alpha status. He’s telling the other horses, “Watch out, it’s MY day!”
On Kentucky Derby Day, 2008, I was at Siro’s with friends. One friend got a call from another pal, who was at the paddock at Churchill. The friend told us to bet on Street Sense, Curlin and Hard Spun. ”Why?” my friend inquired: Because they’re the only three horses in the paddock who aren’t sweating like pigs, was the reply.
We all know how that race played out.
If only pro handicappers had the luxury of waiting ’til the paddock, and they’d all listen to a horse’s body language, conformation and ‘tude–they’d rarely, if ever, lose a bet. The folks at the paddock know how to pick a horse, and it’s all just a matter of observation.
Listen up: I’m not saying that my methods are the right ways–but they’re not wrong, either. Intuition, the pedigree/spirit connection and just plain listening to your heart will tell you who will win. To listen to my handicapping advice is rather like going to a psychic, then re-arranging the furniture because she tells you that your dead Grandmother wants the sofa near the front window. Your deceased Grannie may, indeed, want you to move that dagnabit couch–but you can find out for yourself if there’s a connection–not just depend on the say-so of a go-between.
The world that we can’t see or measure is just as important in horse racing as any other aspect. This sport, of all the sports on Earth, is the world that deals in archetypes and spiritual/emotional connection. To try to separate that connection for the sake of adhering to contemporary, scientific, unfeeling thought processes–is to deny our very own nature, and that of The Horse.
I may not be a real handicapper, but I know absolute joy when a horse like Adios Nardo comes in–or when I see two great jockeys duke it out. Betting for your favorite four-legged spirit is not only an OK thing–it’s a fine thing, indeed.
And, hey–listen to me if you want. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn, now and then.